Editor’s note: This article was originally published April 30, 2014
For almost two decades DC-based production duo Thievery Corporation has been breaking musical boundaries, pushing the limits of sonic exploration and pioneering the progressive wing of Electronic Dance Music long before the term EDM existed. A wild cheer ripped through the sold out Stubb’s crowd on Tuesday night when co-founder Rob Garza took position at the control station, an elevated platform at the back of the stage set with turntables, drum pads and a keyboard. Starting with a broad instrumental that mashed electronic beats and vigorous live percussion together with strains of Indian classical music he led an electrifying live ensemble that included a guitar/sitarist, a drum kit, two percussionists, two female vocalists, a rapper and three dancehall chanters on a musical excursion that lasted almost two hours.
The set touched just briefly on the group’s new album "Saudade," a slow tempo mix of gauzy bossa nova, instead drawing heavily from Thievery Corporation’s back catalog of high energy crowd movers. "This is a journey with the spirit. This is a journey through sound," rapper Mr. Lif told the audience halfway through, inviting the audience to "let your mind take flight." It was an ecstatic musical adventure that seemlessly melded elements of reggae, hip-hop, go-go and soul into an irresistible mix that kept the packed house moving.
In Thievery Corporation’s world the electronic music tropes that lead some acts to monotony become frameworks for exploration. Swirling her voice around the plodding bass and drum loops that mark the 2011 song "Is It Over" vocalist Shana Halligan built the song to a fevered climax. The group is also known for incorporating bold political protest into club bangers and their fiery leftist tracks "Radio Retaliation" and "Vampires" both drew strong responses. Another highlight came as Frank Orrall, who also plays with one-time Austin act Poi Dog Pondering, came out from his percussion rig to front a remix version of David Byrne’s "The Heart’s a Lonely Hunter."
Starting the set shortly after 8:30, the band played through to 10 p.m. with no breaks in momentum or drops in energy, when they left the stage a riotus cheer brought them back for an encore that included the group’s new single "Depth of My Soul" a sensual number to "get you really romantic to send you home," as Halligan insinuated and the blazing, take no prisoners, throw down jam "Warning Shots."
When the crowd still wouldn’t let the band leave they returned once more for a poignant version of "Sweet Tides" with Garza on guitar. The band peeled off one at a time, leaving Garza and vocalist Loulou Ghelichkhani, who also plays in the local band Bone, Fur and Feathers, to bring the song to a lovely quiet close. With the air thick with joy, love and sweat and curfew upon us the crowd reluctantly dispersed, still buzzing with energy and somehow richer from the musical pilgrimage.